If ever a book were tailor-made for a David Fincher movie adaptation (Se7en, Zodiac, etc.), it’s Lauren Beukes’ latest dark, genre-bending mystery.
On a cool November night in Detroit, Detective Gabriella Versado comes across the strangest crime scene of her career: a dead 11-year-old boy whose lower half has been replaced by that of a deer. Their bodies have been fused together into a macabre human-animal hybrid straight out of “True Detective” or NBC’s “Hannibal,” and Versado believes the killer will strike again.
Meanwhile, a diverse array of Detroit grifters—the unemployed writer, Jonno Haim, desperate for a story that will save his career; the homeless squatter known as TK, wracked by seizures; and the tortured artist, Clayton Broom, whose refrigerator is stuffed with secrets—begins to encounter strange things in the city at night, “when the borders are the most porous the between the worlds, and unnatural things leak out of people’s heads.” From faces carved into stone cairns at the city’s secret beach to perfect circles of upturned chairs in church basements, something is happening in Detroit beyond the city’s usual death and decay.
This is a police procedural that’s anything but procedural, a deft combination of otherworldly genre intrigue and the true-to-life details of a front-page homicide investigation. In short chapters that are brisk but never rushed, Beukes’ prose is a masterful display of James Wood’s free indirect style, embodying five distinct personalities touched by obsession, desperation and madness. Striking details—like “Detroit diamonds,” what locals call the blue glass left behind from broken car windows—lend an extraordinary sense of place to a story set in one of America’s darkest and most iconic cities. For many writers, reading Beukes is a sobering encounter with our own limitations, awed as we are by her immense talent and unwavering authority with words. To call Broken Monsters her masterpiece would be a disservice to both her previous and future work, but to count it among the very best books of its kind seems perfectly reasonable.